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Cops may extend traffic stops to ask drivers about their medications

State v. Kimberly Dale Crone, 2021 WI App 29; case activity (including briefs)

Think twice before driving with medication in your car or purse. This decision (recommended for publication) holds that when a sheriff stops a driver for simple speeding, and he admittedly lacks reasonable suspicion to inquire about medication bottles he sees in the driver’s purse, he may nevertheless extend the stop to ask the driver to consent to a search of those bottles per State v. Wright, 2019 WI 45, 386 Wis. 2d 495, 926 N.W.2d 157 and Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015).

Deputy Poplin stopped Crone because she was driving 11 m.p.h. over the speed limit at 9:00 a.m. While she was looking through her purse for her license and proof of insurance, he saw two orange pill bottles. He had no reason to believe that she did not have prescriptions for them. He took her license to his squad car to confirm that it was valid. He handed it back to Crone and then asked if he could see the two medication bottles. Crone consented.

One bottle bore a valid prescription label for gabapentin, a drug for seizures and nerve pain. The other had no label and contained various pills, including gabapentin, ibuprofen and Lorazepam, a drug for anxiety. Poplin asked Crone if she had a prescription for it. She did not.

The State conceded that Poplin lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the stop to inquire whether Crone legally possessed the contents of the two medication bottles. The issue on appeal was whether the stop lasted longer than was reasonably necessary to effectuate its original purpose–speeding. Opinion, ¶11.

Judge Hruz (joined by Seidl) wrote the majority opinion relying mostly on Rodriguez and Wright. Rodriguez held that “the Fourth Amendment tolerates certain unrelated investigations that do not lengthen the roadside detention.”  These unrelated inquiries cannot prolong the stop beyond the amount of time reasonably required to complete the stop’s mission. Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 354.

Wright held that an officer’s question about whether the driver has a concealed weapon relates to officer safety, is negligibly burdensome, and thus does not give rise to a Fourth Amendment violation. Wright in turn relied on  State v. Floyd, 2017 WI 78, 377 Wis. 2d 394, 898 N.W.2d 560, which holds that an officer may ask about the presence of weapons during a traffic stop.

Poppin did not stop Crone for suspected OWI. She was simply speeding. And the Majority admits that Poppin’s request to view the medication bottles was unrelated to the stop of the mission.  Nor did it relate to officer safety. The majority nevertheless approved Poppin’s questioning regarding the medication bottles because it took so little time. It was shorter than the 7 to 8-minute extension that violated the 4th Amendment in Rodriguez. Opinion, ¶¶22-23.

According to the majority, a “wholistic reading” of Rodriquez illustrates that it did not create a rigid rule that a traffic stop must cease after its mission has been accomplished. Opinion, ¶¶24-27.  It then delivered a fuzzy warning to law enforcement: “delays between the proper ending of a traffic stop and when an officer poses an unrelated investigatory question need not belong at all before the stop’s extension becomes unreasonable and, thus, unlawful.”Id.

Judge Stark filed a 10-page separate opinion. It’s a concurrence only because she is bound by SCOW’s decision in Wright. She believes that Wright is inconsistent with the basic purpose of the 4th Amendment, which is to safeguard the privacy and security of people against arbitrary invasions by the government. Opinion, ¶34.

Stark argues that the negligible amount of time needed to ask an unrelated question during a traffic stop cannot be the sole criterion by which the reasonableness of the stop is judged. Instead, courts should apply the balancing analysis set forth in Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50 (1979) and State v. Griffith, 2000 WI 72, 236 Wis. 2d 48, 613 N.W.2d 72.

She also hammers the fact that while Poppin’s interaction with Crone may not have taken long, he was in fact investigating her private medical information in public view. Asking a driver for innocuous information is one thing, asking her to disclose confidential medical information is quite another. Opinion, ¶40.

Readers may recall that in State v. Courtney C. Brown, Judge Reilly sharply criticized Floyd and Wright because they essentially authorized racial profiling. Justice R.G.Bradley filed a concurrence arguing that Reilly incited racial tensions while demeaning the integrity of the state’s highest court. Read more here.





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